Florida State running back Dalvin Cook would take the practice field only after his teammates were leaving it.
Each day, he was out there alone, practicing plays with imaginary teammates while running against imaginary opponents. He did his solitary best to keep his focus mentally and physically, all in the hope of getting the chance to play in 2015.
These lonely workouts were the result of being suspended after being charged with misdemeanor battery, accused of punching a woman outside a Tallahassee bar over the summer. When it came time for FSU to take a team photo last month, it took two — one with Cook and one without him.
When a jury acquitted him in less than 30 minutes, Cook was free to return. Back to real practice. Back to his teammates. Back to football.
And now? He is most definitely back in the picture.
"He's the real deal," USF coach Willie Taggart said. "He's the best."
Taggart had a painfully up-close look Saturday as Cook turned in one of the greatest performances ever by a Florida State player. The sophomore rushed for 266 yards, second most in a game in school history, as FSU grinded out a 34-14 victory over the Bulls. Only Greg Allen's 322-yard performance in 1981 was better.
"I knew I busted a couple of long runs," Cook said, "but I didn't know I had that many yards."
He didn't know until he was interviewed on the field after the game. That's when he learned that he was only the fifth Seminole to rush for 200 or more yards in a game.
Hard to believe, isn't it?
This is even harder to believe: No running back from a state school has won the Heisman Trophy. Eight quarterbacks have. But no running backs. Not Emmitt Smith. Not Warrick Dunn. Not Willis McGahee. Not anybody from the state.
Cook smiled and said, "Might be the year. You never know."
Fans chanted "Cook for Heisman" as he left the field Saturday. Of course, mid September is a tad early to start talking Heisman, but did you see the way Cook ran Saturday?
He had a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He had a 24-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He whipped off a 50-yard run later in the third. Then he put the finishing hold on the Bulls with a sensational 37-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
"That's what good players do," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "When you need them, they step up and do that."
FSU definitely needed Cook on Saturday. The final score looks comfortable, but the game wasn't for the Seminoles. Without Cook, the Seminoles might have been on upset alert.
Quarterback Everett Golson struggled in the first half, meaning Cook was forced to carry FSU's offense. At one point in the third quarter, Cook had accounted for 192 of Florida State's 217 yards. When he broke 200 yards, he became the first FSU back to do that since Sammie Smith in 1988.
Fisher bragged about Cook's heart and desire, then added, "Him and God had a meeting."
What did Jimbo mean?
"I mean he is blessed with great ability," Fisher said. "But he works with that ability. He doesn't waste that ability."
Fisher compared Cook to another FSU great, Jameis Winston.
"He likes everything about football," Fisher said. "He doesn't just like playing in the game. He likes practice. He likes to lift weights. He likes to run. He likes to train. He likes to watch film. All the great ones do. He's a heck of a player."
Fisher knew that when he first saw Cook in high school at Miami Central. Fisher said he just had to have a kid who "changes numbers on the scoreboard" because of his blend of talent and elbow grease.
FSU receiver Bobo Wilson said, "You should see (Cook) during the week; everything is paying off now."
Cook's focus, will and desire were never more evident than during his suspension, when he was not allowed to participate in any team activities.
"He could have very easily lost focus," Fisher said. "He's a very mature guy. He knew the facts of what was going on, and we were fortunate that that was the truth. We're very proud that he stayed focused and committed."
Where did Cook get that focus? Where did he get that commitment?
"Coach Fisher — every day," Cook said. "If you don't come to practice like that, that mind-set of coming hard every day, he'll probably throw you out of practice or run you or something."
Through two games, Cook has rushed for 422 yards and is averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
Okay, so the games were against Texas State and USF. Tougher tests lie ahead. The opponents will be better. And you can be assured that every defensive coordinator will circle No. 4 when designing schemes to shut down the FSU offense. Though Golson improved as Saturday's game went on, Cook is clearly the centerpiece of FSU's offense.
"He's a combination of everything," Fisher said.
Cook is definitely in the picture and would love to strike another pose — like the guy on the Heisman Trophy.